war crimes in Ukraine

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Oleksa Tykhy: Citizen of Ukraine

"The main thing is that in the school there is a memorial to Tykhy, a memory to the truth, memory to Ukraine, and that children see it every day. Those children are our future. Maybe their lives at least will be easier.”

The press recently reported that the memorial plaque to Oleksa Tykhy at the Druzhnivska City Library had been desecrated.  The following letter was received from Yevhen Shapovalov in Oleksiyevo-Druzhkivka.

“I am a businessman producing small mosaic jewellery. I see all that is happening in connection with Tykhy and feel so ashamed for all of us, for our Donbas area. Yet this is my native land, I love it as Oleksa loved the Donetsk region. And so I made this memorial plaque and had it placed there. And now let the authorities explain what happened. Let them claim all the credit. That’s not what’s important. The main thing is that in the school there is a memorial to Tykhy,  a memory to the truth, memory to Ukraine, and that children see it every day. Those children are our future. Maybe their lives at least will be easier.”

The businessman sent a photo of the monument: there is an opened book with a portrait of Oleksa Tykhy and his words. And a torch. The presentation of the memorial is scheduled for 11 a.m. 26 January in the Oleksiyevo-Druzhkivka school which Tykhy finished in 1943, and where he taught from 1954-56.  This worthy undertaking has the support of the school, the settlement council, the city department of education, as well as of journalists.

On 27 January 2007 it will be 80 years since Oleksy Ivanovych Tykhy was born in the farmstead of Yizhivka, Kostyantynivka district of the Donetsk region. Tykhy, a consistent and uncompromising opponent of Russification, teacher, human rights defender, was one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976.  He died in the prison hospital of the Perm political labour camps on 6 May 1984.  Five years later, on 19 November 1989, the reburial of Oleksa Tykhy, Vasyl Stus and Yury Lytvyn, all imprisoned as “particularly dangerous state criminals” and “repeat offenders” in Baikove Cemetery (Kyiv) was attended by more than thirty thousand people from all over Ukraine.

Oleksa Tykhy graduated from the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University, having first studied at the Zaporizhye Agricultural Institute and at the Dnipropetrovsk Institute for Transport Engineers, then. He worked as a teacher in schools in the Pryazovske district of the Zaporizhye region and in the Kostyantynivka district of the Donetsk region, teaching physics, maths and Ukrainian language, as well as on a building site and as a fireman.

He was first arrested in 1948 for criticism of the only “candidate” as Deputy, but was released after a “preventive talk”.

The second arrest was on 15 January 1957 over a letter he sent the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) protesting against the occupation of Hungary by the forces of Warsaw Pact countries, and also for “anti-Soviet agitation” and “slandering the CPSU and Soviet reality” through his critical comments about Soviet schools, made at a teachers’ conference on the restructuring of schools. He was sentenced on 18 May 1958 by the Stalino (now Donetsk) Regional Court under Article 54-10 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years deprivation of civil rights.

He served his sentence in the Mordovian political labour camps, Camp No. ZhKh-385/11, the station Yavas, Zubova Polyana district.  There he worked as a joiner on a power-saw bench.  Among fellow prisoners whom he communicated with were the composer Vasyl Barvinsky, Levko Lukyanenko and Josyf Slipy. He was released in 1964.

Tykhy wrote several articles on the Russification of Donbas, on the woeful state of the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture in Donbas, as well as articles on the problems of the Ukrainian village (in response to an article on rural problems in “Literaturna gazeta” [“Literary newspaper”]). In an article on the Ukrainian language and culture in the Donetsk regions from 1972 Tykhy supported the collective form of management, yet suggested nonetheless giving more freedom to those working on the land.

Since he was not allowed to work in his field, he worked as a fitter, a fireman and as a brick firer. His work was in shifts and he had the opportunity to visit friends from the camps and human rights activists, and he also circulated samizdat material. 

Oleksa Tykhy put together a book for teachers, an anthology of quotes by prominent people entitled “Mova narodu. Narod” [“The People’s Language. The People”] which received praise from scientific institutions, as well as a dictionary of the Ukrainian dialect of the Donbas area. Tykhy’s language was a model of pure literary Ukrainian.  He spoke correctly, disarming his hearer with a gentle smile.  He combined an iron will with the rare qualities of extreme tolerance and willingness to accept others and kind-heartedness.

On 15 June 1976 during a search of his home, a text of the collection “Mova narodu. Narod” was removed. Tykhy himself was held for two days “on suspicion of having robbed a shop”.

In November 1976 Tykhy became one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG).  He was arrested again on 4 February 1977 and charged under Article 62 Part 2 (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) and Article 222  “illegal possession of firearms”) of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR  The second charge related to an old German rifle sealed up with clay from the War found during the search in the attic of his shed.  The trial of Oleksa Tykhy and Mykola Rudenko took place between 23 June and 1 July 1977 in the town of Druzhkivka in the Donetsk region.  Tykhy was accused on the basis of the articles “Ukrainske slovo” [“Ukrainian word”], “Dumky pro ridnu movu” [“Thoughts on our native language”], “Silski problemy” [“Rural issues”], “Rozdumy pro ukrainsku movu ta ukrainsku literature na Donechchyni” [“Reflections on the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian literature in the Donetsk region”], the texts of the Declaration of the UHG and the Memorandum No. 1 of the UHG, the latter two Tykhy having taken part in discussing and signed. The court did not prove a single fact of defamation of the Soviet political and social system in Tykhy’s articles and utterances, restricting itself to the statement that he referred to “the supposed Russification in the Donbas area”, still less did they provide any evidence that he had aimed to undermine the system.

He was sentenced by the Donetsk Regional Court to 10 years special regime labour camp and 5 years exile, being declared a particularly dangerous repeat offender.

He was sent again to the Mordovian political labour camps, this time Camp No. ZhKh-385/1, the settlement of Sosnovka, then was transferred to the hospital in Nizhny Tagin.

Tykhy took an active part in the protest actions of the prisoners and signed collective letters and appeals. In  April 1978 he began a hunger strike which was to last for 52 days. In the summer of 1978 Tykhy and Father Vasyl Romanyuk produced a document with the title “Istorychna dolya Ukrainy. Lyst ukrainskykh politvyazniv. Sproba uzahalnennya” [“The Historical fate of Ukraine. A letter from Ukrainian political prisoners. An attempt at an overall view”).  In it the authors proclaimed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the highest principle for the co-existence of all peoples and nationalities, distanced themselves from the politics and practice of the CPSU both with regard to the national question, and in terms of its treatment of the concept of democracy.

In the section on the historical fate of Ukraine, the consequences of the joining of Ukraine to Russia were examined, and the wish for Ukraine’s future independence expressed. In the section “Possible forms of resistance”, the authors proposed passive resistance in the form of resisting Russification, including the following:

-  “Using only our native language in our native land, and through this changing ourselves and our people;

-  Not sending children to kindergartens and schools where the  teaching is in Russian, seeking to have schools and pre-school education provided in our native language, or teaching our children ourselves;

-  Refusing to study in schools and other educational institutions where the  teaching is in Russian, trying to find schools, technical colleges and higher educational institutions with tuition in our native language and studying independently, taking exams as external students;

-  Speaking our native language not only in the family, but at work, in public activity and in public;

-  Refraining from drinking vodka, using bad language and smoking;

-  Refusing to serve in the army outside Ukraine and under commanders who do not use Ukraine;

-  Not leaving to work outside Ukraine;

-  Defending our rights and the rights of others, freedom, honour, dignity; standing up for Ukrainian sovereignty;

-  Uncovering and publicizing all violations of the law for which there should be no impunity.

Unfortunately none of these words have lost their force and relevance. The recommendations on how to survive as a Ukrainian in Ukraine remain immediate since Ukrainian language and culture continue to be in the position of a national minority in many parts of Ukraine. “Yet where do we find that freedom is achieved without sacrifice? Is it really fitting to live as trembling animals, governed by our stomachs, bringing up our children to be rootless children of the twentieth century?”, the authors ask.

In October 1978 Tykhy began a new hunger strike and was moved into a solitary confinement cell. The doctor refused to treat him.

On 18 April 1979, into the seventeenth day of another hunger strike, Tykhy suffered an ulcer haemorrhage.  He was only taken to hospital after 18 hours with blood pressure of 70/40, since the Head of the Camp claimed that Tykhy was pretending. The surgeon, Skrypnyk, demanded before operating that Tykhy make a written renunciation of his previous activity, in response to which Tykhy accused him of blackmail. “Your life will be short and full of pain”, the doctor told him. It was a week after the operation before Tykhy regained consciousness.

In January and February 1980 Tykhy was held in a punishment isolation cell with only short breaks for around 40 days. He was punished, the administration said, for ripping off his breast tag, for not getting up when those in authority entered, for refusing to work and for having a bad influence on other prisoners.

From 27 February to 1 March 1980 all the prisoners of the special regime unit, including Tykhy, were moved to the Perm political labour camps, to Camp No. VS-389/36-1 in the village of Kutchino, Chusovoi district of the Perm region. One prisoner died during the journey. In the camp Tykhy was on many occasions punished for not fulfilling his work norm, for refusing to shave off his moustache, for protest hunger strikes and other reasons. He was kept in a cell-type punishment block for 6 months for ‘violations of the regime’, and again went on hunger strike.

From 1983 Tykhy’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. He lost weight (at 1.78 m. he weighed 41 kilograms). He had to be held when brought to his last 40-minute visit from his son Volodymyr, yet he  laughed, recalled the Sermon on the Mount. This Don Quixote of the twentieth century with the face of a European president went to his death as his predecessors had gone to the stake.

Oleksa Tykhy died in a cell in the Perm prison hospital on 6 May 1984.  His son was not permitted to take his father’s body.

With Presidential Decree No. № 937/2006 from 8 November 2006, to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords (the Ukrainian Helsinki Group), for his civic courage, selfless commitment to the struggle for the ideals of freedom and democracy, Oleksa Tykhy was awarded the State Honour “For courage”, First Class (posthumously).

Iryna Rapp and Vasyl Ovsiyenko

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